Regan manages to realize his goal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sarasota, Fla. -- This is what Phil Regan knew in the fall of 1993 when he assessed his dream of becoming a major-league manager:

With the trend toward young blood, rarely are managers hired for the first time after the age of 55. Regan was 56 at the time.

Former pitchers rarely are considered as major-league managers, the general belief in baseball being that position players have a better understanding of the game. Regan was a former pitcher.

Almost every manager in baseball history had been in uniform in his previous job as a coach or manager. Regan had worked out of the stands as an advance scout for seven years.

Rarely do former college coaches ascend to become major-league managers. Regan coached Grand Valley State College in Michigan for 10 years.

He understood all this and even thumbed through the Baseball Encyclopedia, analyzing the backgrounds of managers, assessing his chances. And in the fall of 1993, Phil Regan told his daughter Lisa that he was going to manage in the big leagues.

It was about the same thing he had said to his neighbor Bob Pipe, a pharmacist in Byron Center, Mich., 10 years before. Except Regan gave Lisa a specific time frame. Within a year, Regan said, he was going to be a manager in the big leagues.

He had every reason to have doubts. He had none.

Never has.

*

Regan was sitting in civics class in his sophomore year at Wayland (Mich.) High School in 1953 when the teacher asked the students to jot down what they planned to do in 10 years.

Adolescence can be a trying time, with mental and physical changes, awkwardness, and for many the inherent fear of ridicule. Not for Regan, who wrote: I want to be a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.

Another student in the class, Carol Jurrians, remembers this well, because she married Regan three years later. She liked his self-assuredness and convictions. She always had a sense, she says now, that he would never fold under pressure.

From the first time they met, she says now, he always has been a positive person, funny, self-assured, devoted to his values. Didn't smoke or drink then, and doesn't now. Doesn't believe in it.

He had grown up poor, a native of Otsego, Mich., but, he says, that never bothered him. In many ways, Regan says it may have been an advantage to him, because it forced him to make do. His family didn't have a television and little in the way of material wealth. The Regans did have a radio, however, and would gather around to listen to the horror program "Inner Sanctum" or Tigers games.

On some summer nights, Regan played basketball with his friends, shooting at a hoop nailed against a barn. What he really loved to do was find a sturdy stick and hit rocks into a field, rating the drives for distance and trajectory and calling them outs or singles or doubles or triples or homers. He would play out imaginary games this way for hours; Tigers vs. Yankees, Tigers vs. the White Sox, Tigers vs. everybody.

He loved the Tigers and had no doubt he would pitch for them.

"He has always been like that," Carol Regan said. "He does have a real sense of what his goals are and will do whatever work is necessary to accomplish them."

Regan played basketball, baseball and football at Wayland High, and got a baseball and basketball scholarship to Western Michigan. But when he got an offer from the Tigers in 1956, he signed and left Michigan to stalk his dream.

One of his minor-league teammates was Steve Boros, who remembers Regan that year as tall and slender and entirely confident.

"He didn't have the best stuff," Boros said. "He didn't throw particularly hard."

But, Boros added, Regan had a nice slider that broke away from right-handed hitters to nick the corner of the plate. To keep hitters from leaning out to hit that pitch, Regan would throw inside fastballs, and throw them ferociously.

He wasn't necessarily trying to hit people, Boros said. But Regan needed the inner half of the plate to make the big leagues, and he was going to have it. No doubt.

"He was one of the toughest competitors I've ever seen," Boros said.

Regan won 17 games in his first minor-league season, and it turned out that Regan's civics class prediction was wrong. He didn't start pitching for the Tigers in 1963; he made his debut in 1960.

He regressed in 1965, being sent to the minor leagues and traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the off-season. But in 1966, Regan recovered, going 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA for the Dodgers, saving 21 games.

Regan went to the Chicago Cubs in 1968, and Carol Regan would drive to Wrigley Field with the couple's young children, a happy reunion.

But as soon as Regan put on his uniform, Carol Regan said, his concentration was hypnotic. The children would stand near the dugout and yell, trying and failing to get his attention. Glenn Beckert, a second baseman and teammate of Regan's with the Cubs, would yell to the tall right-hander to ask where he should position himself, and Regan wouldn't hear him. Beckert would ask the umpire for time and trot to the mound.

He finished his career in 1972, after 13 years in the majors and 96 victories and 92 saves, fair numbers for a pitcher with average talent.

High expectations

Regan became baseball coach at Grand Valley State College in Grand Rapids in 1973, convinced he had a deep knowledge of the game and that he was ready to manage. No doubt.

He was wrong. He would tell Orioles general manager Roland Hemond more than 20 years later that nothing could expose your knowledge -- or lack thereof -- than preparing to teach the game. Regan found, too, that his expectations for his players were too great, oppressive at times.

"I probably wasn't a very good coach for the first few years," he said.

But he was learning, not only about the game, but all the peripheral parts of being in charge. Fund-raising, clinics, recruiting, scouting. There was more to running a team, he discovered, than knowing when to bunt and when to replace a tiring pitcher.

Regan coached Grand Valley for 10 years before agreeing to go back to professional baseball with the Seattle Mariners as an advance scout and minor-league pitching instructor.

It was at that time, Carol Regan said, that Regan began to talk of his desire to manage in the major leagues. It was at that time that he told his neighbor Pipe that he would be a major-league manager within five years. No doubt.

He became pitching coach for the Mariners in 1984, back in uniform, back in the big leagues. But Regan, who had been surprised at his own shortcomings in his first years at Grand Valley, said he believed that he needed more preparation if he ever was going to manage.

Regan took a job managing in the Dominican Republic in 1985, taking over for the popular Manny Mota. It was a decision that, almost a decade later, would help him to become a manager in the majors.

A managing laboratory

Winter ball became like a managing laboratory for Regan. His teams ran the bases aggressively in his first season -- "You could almost say recklessly," he said with a smile -- in his first years, and each successive year, Regan would decide to try a certain strategy or mode of play.

When Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland started asking No. 2 hitter Jay Bell to sacrifice bunt and the Pirates won division titles, Regan decided he, too, would try that strategy.

At the time he first started managing in winter ball, Regan said he didn't have a good grasp of when to play the infield in and when to play it back, and he employed different tactics to learn how to best handle each situation. He kept diligent notes.

Regan became an advance scout for the Dodgers in 1987 and was praised for the thoroughness of his reports. Dodgers GM Fred Claire said he thought Regan's knowledge and concentration was apparent in his work. Regan would pay particular attention to what pitchers and hitters tried to do and accomplished according to the ball-strike count.

Claire knew Regan wanted to manage. Claire saw him ably handle players in winter ball, watched his teams consistently win and heard the emotion in Regan's voice when he called in his reports. But a "special quality" in Regan, Claire said, is that he never let this ambition become obtrusive.

"When you give Phil the job," Claire said, "he won't be looking to take somebody else's job, doing a lot of politicking. . . . Once he makes up his mind and accepts a job, he'll do that job flat-out to the best of his ability."

In September 1988, Regan was assigned to scout the New York Mets, who were running away with the NL East and were expected to play the Dodgers in the championship series. The Mets had beaten the Dodgers 11 of 12 games during the regular season. Using Regan's reports, the Dodgers beat the Mets in seven games, then went on to stun the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.

The Dodgers rumors

There were rumors about the departure of Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, that he would retire or sign elsewhere. Regan talked with Claire about the situation and, while receiving no promises, began to think of himself as a serious candidate.

In the fall of 1991, Claire picked former Dodgers infielder Bill Russell to manage at Triple-A Albuquerque, a decision that stung Regan. He says now he would have taken the job if offered, and at the time, he said he thought the Dodgers were establishing a hierarchy of succession.

"I was disappointed," Regan said. "And there was a little bit of anger."

Regan thought he was the better candidate.

"I have to think in my mind that I would've been," Regan said. "I tell the players, when I was a relief pitcher, I thought I was the best relief pitcher. I might not have been, but I thought I was. I think you have to believe that. You have to think you're the best, or you'll never be the best, or you'll never have the confidence to be the best."

Regan said he thought that to that point, he had proved himself in winter ball.

"I had won at all the different levels," he said. "I had won in the Dominican, I had been a pitching coach, I had handled pitching under [Chuck] Cottier [in Seattle], which I think is big in managing.

"I had managed all different types of people, the Latin players, the American players, how they react. I had been through players leaving and making do with what you had. Plus the fact that we had won -- my teams had been competitive, they played aggressively, and they had played hard. I felt I communicated well with them.

"I'm not knocking Bill Russell; he's a good friend of mine. But if you're going to go on results, the year he went to manage in the Dominican, we won the championship. My team beat his team in the playoffs. . . . As a competitor, I thought I had done everything I can do. My [attitude] is . . . hey, if I win 15 games and you win five, then I should move up over you."

Regan said he wondered, briefly, if he would achieve his goal of managing in the big leagues. He faced such long odds fighting against baseball's conventional wisdom.

"I think there's generally a bias against pitchers becoming managers," said Boros, now Regan's third base coach. "The thinking is that pitchers don't really think about much else except pitching, so they're not going to know the rest of the game."

Regan wasn't getting any younger. Some managers and even general managers were in their 30s -- San Diego's Randy Smith was 29 when he became Padres GM in June 1993.

But Regan rid himself of that thought quickly, deciding to make do. He tried to figure out what he needed to do to become a manager.

"What I needed to do was to get back into uniform," Regan said. "Maybe I needed to go back on the field before I was seriously considered."

Regan nearly accepted a chance to interview for the managerial job of the Florida Marlins -- and he has second-guessed himself for not doing so -- before agreeing, at the end of the 1993 season, to become pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians. He told his daughter Lisa he would be a manager within a year.

"She believed me," Regan said, laughing. "Maybe my wife didn't, but she did."

Completely at ease

In Venezuela that fall, Regan said he felt completely at ease managing. He knew when to play the infield in, when to play back, and felt a mastery. In his mind, Regan was ready.

Cleveland contended for the AL Central title in 1994, and the pitching staff -- rebuilt because of the death of three pitchers the year before -- had a big season. Regan suddenly was being named as a possible managerial candidate in Boston, Texas and Baltimore.

He said he thought his first interview with the Orioles went well. In fact, he had done exceptionally well, and although Davey Johnson and Rick Dempsey were considered the popular favorites, Regan had made a strong impression.

In the first interview, Regan was "a man on a mission -- to some day be a major-league manager," Hemond said. "What's impressive is he's never been a self-promoter. You could see that he figured he would get his work in and he would attain the job, rather than politick for the job."

Regan was brought back to Baltimore for a second time to meet owner Peter Angelos. Regan had been told that if Angelos liked him, he would be offered the job. Regan thought at that time he would become manager of the Orioles.

He was right. Angelos was impressed, and Regan accepted the job.

Regan called home. "I got the job," he told Carol Regan.

She says now, "Phil's not one of those guys who's going to jump up and down and get excited. But you could tell he was excited.

"He was thinking, 'I've got to pinch myself. I can't believe I got this job.' "

No doubt.

ARMED FOR SUCCESS?

Relatively few pitchers have become major-league managers, as the Orioles' Phil Regan has. Here's a list of the notable exceptions:

Manager .. .. .. .. .Years (last) .... .. .. .. .. ..W-L (Pct.)

Tom Lasorda .. .. .. .19 (active) .. .. .. .. .1480-1338 (.525)

Fred Hutchinson .. ...12 (1964) .. .. .. .. .. ..830-827 (.501)

Roger Craig .. .. .. .10 (1992) .. .. .. .. .. ..738-737 (.500)

Bob Lemon .. .. .. .. .8 (1982) .. .. .. .. .. ..430-403 (.516)

Walter Johnson .. .. ..7 (1935) .. .. .. .. .. ..529-432 (.550)

George Bamberger .. ...7 (1986) .. .. .. .. .. ..458-478 (.489)

REGAN'S RECORD

Phil Regan's record as manager of Caracas in Venezuela in

winter ball:

Season .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Record

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..33-27

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..30-30

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..36-34

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..37-23

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..38-24

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..33-27

Totals .. .. .. ...207-165 (.556)

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
34°